Monday, September 26, 2011

"Trollope" is kind of an unfortunate name.

What does one read in this setting?
Not bragging, recapping.
I spent a good long time wandering around the fiction section at the Chicago Public Library pondering that question. I wanted something reasonably light, but not stupid; although normally a pool is a good place to read stupid things, I went to Florida with my parents and grandma and was feeling a little self-conscious. Anyway, I meandered around the shelves for a while trying to think of something and then I thought of Anthony Trollope. I knew (know) next to nothing about Trollope but I had it in my mind that he was a fairly popular Victorian novelist and that sounded good enough for me. So I spent some further time getting my bearings in the Trollope section and settled on The Warden.
Action shot with mango blender drink.
This might appear to be a very thin novel for the Victorians but it's actually the first of six novels set in fictional Barsetshire -- so, phew, there's still a few thousand pages to go. I enjoyed The Warden and plan to keep going in the series, although I have a few other things to get through first.

Trollope is an interesting writer; he's very "present" in the book and explicitly implies (I know that sounds contradictory but you know what Victorians are like) that he is relating events that he's witnessed. He's also prone to big, florid digressions, including long passages about the power of the press, which are interesting historically but less so when sitting by a pool. There are many excellent little turns of phrase, e.g.:
Here was a nice man to be initiated into the comfortable arcana of ecclesiastical snuggeries; one who doubted the integrity of parsons, and probably disbelieved the Trinity!
Oh man, comfortable arcana of ecclesiastical snuggeries. Fantastic.

The choice of topic for the book is really interesting, at least on a meta level. The plot revolves around the conflict between the Anglican clergy and a reformer who accuses them of financial impropriety in their handling of a charity. There are various personal and even romantic relationships that shape this conflict but really, that's about it: it's a book about a reform campaign and its consequences. And it's very much a book about the Church of England and her clergy. Granted, most of my experience with Victorian novels is actually with women authors, but this seems like a strange sort of thing to still be good 156 years later.

But it is really good, partly because the conflict allows Trollope to develop the different characters and show how a political and ideological question can impact personal feelings and relationships. And while the novel's conflict itself is, of course, deeply rooted in 19th century British politics, it's not hard to feel a certain affinity with the situation. Take this passage for instance:

In former times great objects were attained by great work. When evils were to be reformed, reformers set about their heavy task with grave decorum and a laborious argument. An age was occupied in proving a grievance, and philosophical researches were printed in folio pages, which it took a lifetime to write, and an eternity to read. We get on now with a lighter step, and quicker: ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince, when learned quartos fail to do so. If the world is to be set right, the work will be done by shilling numbers.
Fair warning, though: Trollope is not very sympathetic to the cause of reform -- or maybe I should say, populist methods. The reformers in this book are idle and self-serving, and their pursuit of a public outcry causes more harm than, clearly, Trollope thinks is justified. Then again, the establishment isn't quite the side of angels, so the whole thing is nuanced enough not to feel flat.

There's also a great chapter in which the main character spends a day in London, considering his problem and trying to avoid someone. The descriptions of where he goes and what he does are great for a historical view of the city.

I know; if you took all of my recommendations you'd never read anything else (and the "Help! I have not read The Help!" read-along is coming up in November so we've got to clear the decks) -- but The Warden has a couple of points in its favor. It's only 203 pages long (in my edition) and, having been published in 1855, it's in the public domain and available as a free ebook.


  1. FINE. I will read this. I've never read any Trollope because I thought he'd be too political (read: boring), but I'm all for anything with relationships. And OMG you had me at 'ecclesiastical snuggeries.'

    Also, you promoted my readalong! I like you 2% more now.

    (p.s. I'm craving chicken on Greek fries. this is a problem)

  2. 2% -- win!

    I wasn't craving Greek french fry chicken before, but now I am.

  3. We should maybe get that this week or Sunday. I think your blog is a totally appropriate place to talk about dinner plans. But you may reply to me on facebook, twitter, gmail, or through texting. All these options are yours!

  4. ALSO you haven't signed up for my readalong. And if you're doing it you should so I look cooler.

  5. I now make it my mission to carry this conversation over multiple communication/social media platforms.

  6. I feel that I am contractually obligated to follow your blog since it has the same template as mine, albeit with a different color scheme. Also, Reading Rambo made me do it. Also, I like it.

    Love the action shot. Sadly I've never read Trollope-the-elder and only in a temporary moment of weakness did I once read Trollope-the-younger.

  7. Yay! I noticed that on your blog and felt that I was in good company :)

    The especially thrilling part of the action shot was trying to position the book so that it wouldn't touch the pool of condensation around the cup. My initiation to the "craft" of blogging.